Watchdog group draws 100

Published 9:08 am Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hunter Darden III addresses more than 100 people who attended the first reorganizational meeting of Citizens for Responsible Government at Southampton High School on Tuesday night. The group plans to meet again on Oct. 20. -- Charlie Passut | Tidewater News

COURTLAND—More than 100 people attended a Tuesday night meeting for reforming the watchdog group Citizens for Responsible Government.

They also came to put the governing Southampton County Board of Supervisors on notice that what they perceive as rampant government spending would no longer go unchecked.

“We’re $70 million in debt, and that’s horribly irresponsible on the part of the Board of Supervisors,” said county resident Daniel Hohman. “It didn’t happen yesterday; it’s happened over the last 10 to 12 years. But it’s not acceptable for an agricultural community to be saddled with that kind of debt. We’ll never get out of debt.”

Speakers attending meeting at Southampton High School railed against the county board for raising taxes this year and spending money on several projects, the size and scope of which were called into question. Chief among them — the county’s new schools, the $26.6 million Courtland Wastewater Treatment Plant and the 492-acre Turner Tract industrial site.

“They have been working on this project for more than 10 years,” resident Hunter Darden III said, who put the price tag at $7 million. “Everybody needs to ride out and look at it, just to know where your money has been spent.”

Darden questioned the wisdom of building an industrial park in Southampton while other parks in Franklin and Courtland weren’t full. He also said there were many acres available with better soil for warehouses in localities closer to the ports in Hampton Roads.

“Our investment is going to bring a poor return when the people in Windsor and Suffolk are closer to the port, and they’re on the major highways,” Darden said. “The way we have to compete is give the land away, to give them tax-free stuff for awhile.”

Sedley area real estate appraiser Ash Cutchin said he has traveled as far as Danville, Petersburg and Suffolk to appraise industrial parks. He said he also appraised the Turner Tract for Southampton County before it was purchased.

Cutchin warned it was possible the county could someday sell for a loss or give away the land to help lure businesses there.

“I’ve interviewed the economic directors who manage these industrial parks,” Cutchin said. “They say they have to give away the property in order to get anyone to come there.”

Hohman said it might be necessary to vote the current Board of Supervisors out of office if they don’t heed the organization’s call to reign in spending.

“Unless we have supervisors who recognize that the people who work for private industry (and) the agricultural community haven’t the ability to keep absorbing more costs, we’re going to bury our county,” Hohman said. “We need to change the way we’re going. I don’t know if we can do it with this current board, but if we can’t then we need to change the board.”

Berlin/Ivor District Supervisor Ronald West and Commissioner of the Revenue Amy Carr attended the meeting. West was invited to speak and did so.

“I’m awed by the people I see here, and I respect your position,” West said. “There is a wake-up call in government. I support this organization, and I will do anything that I can for you.”

On the Turner Tract, West said, “We do the best that we can with the information that we have. We may or may not have paid too much money for it. I hope that we have something special to announce (soon). We are dealing with a business, and it’s not warehouses. But I will not vote to give it away per acre, per nothing. You pay for what it costs or you don’t come here.”

Linda Vick, one of the organization’s primary reorganizers, encouraged people to join, but also urged them to participate.

“I hope everybody has been pleased with this meeting,” Vick said. “There are no criteria for belonging to this group and there are no dues. The only thing we ask is that if you do join, please participate. We need your participation more than anything.”

Vick said the group’s next meeting would be Wednesday, Oct. 20, and that the group would select its own board — a president, two vice presidents, secretary, treasurer and recorder — and form several committees. She added that two people from each district in Southampton County would be elected to the board at the October 20 meeting.

“The next time when we meet, please bring your neighbor or somebody with you so we can enlarge this group of people,” Vick said. “We want numbers to support this group and to go to the Board of Supervisors meetings.”